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How to Become an Occupational Safety Specialist: Career Roadmap

Learn how to become an occupational safety specialist. Explore the education requirements, training information, and experience required for starting a career in occupational safety. View article »

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  • 0:04 Occupational Safety…
  • 0:33 Career Skills & Info
  • 1:50 Step 1: Bachelor's Degree
  • 2:47 Step 2: Work Experience
  • 3:28 Step 3: Advanced Degree

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Video Transcript

Occupational Safety Specialists

Occupational safety specialists verify adherence to safety rules meant to protect workers. Some specialists inspect job sites for potential hazards, while others work as consultants for companies and offer recommendations to improve safety conditions. Because of potentially dangerous situations, occupational safety specialists must often use protective gear. This job can involve a lot of travel, and emergencies may necessitate weekend or evening hours.

Career Skills & Info

Occupational safety specialists should be technologically savvy and have an understanding of several key subject areas, including biology, chemistry, and engineering, in addition to government, management, and public safety. They must also be knowledgeable about Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations and federal and state safety laws.

Occupational safety specialists should be proficient in the use of gas and liquid leak detectors, air samplers, and gas detector tubes and have the computer skills necessary to work with database, query, and compliance software programs. Strong verbal and written communication and problem-solving skills are also important in the field.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), occupational health and safety specialists can expect a 4%, or slower-than-average, increase in jobs between 2014 and 2024. Those with advanced degrees and professional certifications, available through the Board of Certification Safety Professionals and state safety councils, may enjoy more opportunities. Internships and on-the-job training are important in this industry. As of May 2015, occupational health and safety specialists earned an average annual salary of $71,790.

Degree Level Bachelor's degree; master's degree for some positions
Degree Field Occupational health, health sciences, industrial hygiene, or a related field
Training On-the-job training and internships are important
Certifications Voluntary certification available
Key Skills Strong verbal and written communication skills; knowledge of Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations as well as federal and state safety laws; familiarity with biology, engineering, technology, public safety, chemistry, management, and government; proficiency in systems evaluation and complex problem solving; ability to use database, query, and compliance software programs; ability to use air samplers, liquid leak detectors, gas detectors, and gas detector tubes
Average Salary (2015)* $71,790 (for occupational health and safety specialists)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com job postings found in December 2012, O*Net Online

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Step 1: Bachelor's Degree

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that most occupational safety specialist positions require a bachelor's degree in occupational safety or a related field, such as the health sciences or industrial hygiene. A Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety and Health or a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety, Health, and Environment program typically requires 4-5 years to complete. Classes in these programs cover topics like construction safety, fire prevention, ergonomics, and risk management.

Success Tips:

Gain work experience through internships. As interns, students work with a participating organizations and learn the common job duties that occupational safety specialists perform. Some interns also participate in projects, such as conducting employee safety surveys, while others may work as assistants for experienced specialists and learn about the field through observations and guided participation.

Step 2: Work Experience

Occupational safety specialists may inspect facilities to identify and fix potential safety hazards, review employee safety programs, investigate accidents, and recommend changes that can improve worker safety. They may also work to ensure that a company is re-certified by the Occupational Safety and Health Association.

Success Tip:

Join a union or trade organization. After beginning working in the field, occupational safety specialists may be able to join trade unions or other organizations, which provide members with access to seminars covering topical information. Attending these seminars allows specialists to stay abreast of changes in the field of occupational safety.

Step 3: Advanced Degree

According to the BLS, some jobs, especially leadership and upper management positions, may require a master's degree. Master's degree programs in industrial hygiene or occupational and environmental health science typically require two years to complete. The curriculum of these programs, some portion of which may be delivered online, cover topics like toxicology, ergonomics, risk assessment, and statistics. Programs may also require students to complete internships or special projects to help enhance academic learning with hands-on experiences.

Let's review. Occupational safety specialists, who earned an average annual salary of $71,790 in May 2015, need a bachelor's degree in occupational safety, health sciences, or industrial hygiene and a master's degree for higher-level management positions. Industry certifications and membership in professional and trade organizations may also help them advance in a field where employment is expected to grow by a slower-than-average rate through 2024.

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